The Art of Love & Leisure" at London´s National Gallery is slightly mistitled. Though it contains five paintings by Johannes Vermeer, a generous fraction of the 34 currently attributed to the great Dutch artist, this isn´t a single-subject show but a wide-ranging exhibition detailing a big strand of Dutch Golden Age genre painting and music of the same era.
Music was one of the most popular themes in Dutch painting, and carried many diverse associations. In portraits, a musical instrument or songbook might suggest the education or social position of the sitter; in scenes of everyday life, it might act as a metaphor for harmony, or a symbol of transience.
The exhibition displays 17th-century virginals (a type of harpsichord), guitars and lutes alongside the paintings to offer unique insights into the painters’ choice of instruments, and the difference between the real instruments and the way in which the painters chose to represent them.
There are two ways to approach this show. First, it is an informative if slightly worthy essay on Dutch pictures, music and l’amour. Second, it is an excuse to put all four of London’s Vermeers together in a single room (plus one more on loan from a private collection).
Complementing the exhibition, members of the Academy of Ancient Music play 17th-century music in the exhibition space at intervals on Thursdays (from 11am), Fridays (from 3pm) and Saturdays (from 11am).